- “It’s Too Late,” by Carole King and Toni Stern.
From Carole’s Tapestry, 1971. Feminist, sexy, wistful, smart, and so well-structured. I saw Beautiful the musical, and it made me appreciate how King went from being one kind of great songwriter to another kind, in parallel with her own personal transformation into a more modern (natural!) woman. You can grow as a person and as a songwriter at the same time! Maybe one helps the other!
Favorite line: “It used to be so easy living here with you/You were light and breezy and I knew just what to do.”
- “Free Man in Paris,” by Joni Mitchell.
From Court and Spark,” 1974, Joni wrote this about her pal and colleague, young workaholic David Geffen. It’s a monologue in his voice about escaping his responsibilities. To me it’s a rock-solid example of a songwriter being empathic and getting inside someone else’s life to tell a great story, without giving too much away. You don’t always have to write about yourself!
Favorite line: “If l had my way, I’d just walk out those doors/And wander down the Champs Elysees…”
- “Here Comes My Girl,” Tom Petty.
From Damn the Torpedoes, 1979. One of the world’s great talking songs! It’s about his girl who is walking towards him, and the beat of the song mimics walking along with his talking. I love songwriting twists like that. The talking verses are so world-weary, and then the sung choruses so sweet and triumphant, you know for them, everything will be okay at least for the moment. I know people who used this for their wedding song.
Oh Tom, I loved you so.
Favorite line: “I can tell the whole wide world, shove it! Hey! Here comes my girl…”
- “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” by Hillary Lindsey, Gordie Sampson, Brett James.
Recorded by Carrie Underwood on Some Hearts, 2005. Forgive my over-tolerance of contemporary country music. But it can still turn out classics from time to time. This was a mega-hit for Carrie Underwood in 2005. It’s about a woman driving with her baby (the father is conspicuously absent) to her parents’ house on Christmas Eve, and her car spins out of control, so she asks Jesus to “take the wheel,” presumably of her life as well as the current moment.
The simplicity of the metaphor and the grandeur of the song never fail to move me. You can make bad choices, ask for help, and start over. Yes, she’s talking to Jesus, but the message is not necessarily Christian. (I love it, and I’m Jewish!)
Favorite line: “She saw both their lives flash before her eyes/She didn’t even have time to cry.”
- “The Next Messiah,” by Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice.
From Jenny’s Acid Tongue, 2008. Another songwriting twist I love: a song with multiple sections! This is an epic song about her father and his wild life. It goes through various styles, segments, speeds, arrangements, and vocalists, and paints a picture. But, again, it gives only some of the details and leaves plenty to the imagination. (To me, this is the essence of good songwriting.)
Also, songwriters, do not fear longer songs, or blending what might seem like separate songs together. Look at “Stairway to Heaven,” for goodness’ sake, and “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.”
Favorite line: “Now he’s living in the woods, the dark and dank woods/With a cocktail waitress, who thinks she’s an artist.”
Rebecca Turner is a country-folk-rock singer-songwriter formerly of New York and Los Angeles, now residing in Maplewood, NJ. She released her third album The New Wrong Way November 6. She had made two well-received albums: first, Land of My Baby in 2005, then Slowpokes in 2009. First influenced by 70s FM radio and 80s-era record stores, her musical influences have ranged over the years from Emmylou Harris to Liz Phair, from Doris Day to Tom Petty, from Goldfrapp to the Go-Gos.
The title The New Wrong Way refers to the frequent theme of getting older and attempting to do things better, but like all humans, sometimes succeeding and sometimes not. Music itself is a constant theme; characters in the songs include DJ Vin Scelsa, Anita O’Day, and the members of XTC. Rebecca’s musical life doesn’t start and end with albums, For ten years she’s hosted the Saturday Afternoon Song Swap, a songwriter’s performance series, with pal Deena Shoshkes of Cucumbers fame. She and Scott also keep busy with Storybook Studio, home to projects such as the mastering of recent Feelies’ albums, mixing a Richard Thompson documentary soundtrack, and remixing unreleased recordings by the David Gilmour-produced band Unicorn. Thrilled with the amount of music going on in her home and radiating outwards across the Garden State, she has been known to say, “New Jersey is where it’s at.” Rebecca performs sometimes with an electric band, more often with an acoustic-based trio or quartet, and occasionally solo.